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A quick transition

Karen Casciotti
Karen Casciotti on a Zoom call.

Karen Casciotti

Victoria and Roger Sant Director, Earth Systems Program, Associate Professor, Earth System Science

Associate professor Karen Casciotti has multiple roles at Stanford. In addition to teaching, she’s the Faculty Director of the Earth Systems Program, and a member of the Faculty Senate and the Committee for Undergraduate Admissions & Financial Aid. Every group she’s involved with has had to adapt rapidly to this evolving crisis. "We’re all figuring out how to respond and communicate with students differently,” she said. “I’m not able to fall back on all the ways I used to do things.”

One of Karen’s most significant challenges is the closure of the laboratory where she supports graduate students in all phases of their research – those just getting started, those in the middle of significant progress, and fifth-year students who just need a few more samples to complete their work. “I’m trying to make sure grad students are progressing on their research in some way, through data analysis, modeling, and other things that can be done by computer, without being in the lab.” Karen also mentioned the great support she has seen from the Earth Systems staff. "They have stepped up amazingly to support our students as they continue their degree progress, retool internship and capstone projects, declare new majors, and prepare for graduation, all from their own home workspaces."

She also had to transition quickly to virtual teaching. Winter quarter was particularly difficult, as the uncertainty of final exams necessitated intense flexibility. “The final exam was a big part of their grade and I went from figuring out how to do it remotely, to indefinite postponement while the students were in the middle of taking it.”

Luckily, spring quarter has been much more stable. Karen is conducting lectures via Zoom and using breakout rooms to facilitate small group activities. Still, Karen’s husband also works at Stanford, so it can be difficult to manage the demands of their work and home lives. “The biggest challenge has been making sure that all the people that rely on me, both at Stanford and at home, are getting what they need,” she said. One highlight has been teaching her kids science – exploring the plants and insects in their yard, learning about the ocean, and conducting climate change experiments. For Karen, it comes down to priorities. “Continually reassess what’s important and make sure you’re spending your precious time doing those things.”

This Spotlight was adapted from the original story posted by Cardinal at Work. 

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